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Virus death toll rises, in Fredericksburg area and statewide
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Virus death toll rises, in Fredericksburg area and statewide

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The COVID-19 deaths of three more local residents were reported on Saturday along with Virginia’s highest number of new cases in a single day and the biggest statewide spike in fatalities since the fall surge.

All three local deaths were men, who outnumber women in virus fatalities by a margin of 75 to 57. Two lived in Stafford County, and one in Spotsylvania County. Two were white, one was Black and their ages ranged from the 60s to the 80s.

They were among 132 local residents who have died from COVID-19 since March, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Thirteen deaths have been reported since the new year began.

Across the state, another 69 residents were added to Virginia’s growing death toll on Saturday, along with 5,798 new cases as fallout continues from holiday gatherings and colder weather, which has moved more people inside. The state is poised to hit the 400,000-mark this week in total cases since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the positivity rate, which measures the number of positive results among all tests taken, is approaching 20 percent locally, “higher than it’s ever been,” said Allison Balmes–John, spokesperson for the Rappahannock Area Health District. She remembered back in the summer, when the seven-day average for the local area’s positivity rate was 6 percent, which seemed high at the time, given that health officials said anything above 5 percent noted a high level of community transmission.

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As of Sunday, the state’s positivity rate was 16.8 percent while the seven-day average for the local health district was 18.9 percent.

“That is a catastrophic rate,” said Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer of Mary Washington Healthcare where hospital workers have opened a third COVID-19 unit to accommodate patients.

Stafford Hospital and Mary Washington, which has treated the bulk of local virus patients, peaked last week at 99 COVID-19 patients per day. At a virtual town hall last week, Dr. Mike McDermott, the health care system’s CEO, said the number of new hospitalizations across the state is “setting records literally every day.”

Hospitals in the region used to be able to transfer patients to each other’s facilities if one had a heavier caseload than the other, but that’s no longer the case, McDermott said. “There’s no slack left. It’s tight everywhere.”

While there’s been a lot of enthusiasm among local residents for the vaccines, health officials constantly remind residents it will be months before everyone who wants a shot can get one. The local health district—Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford—has an estimated population of more than 376,000 people.

“We’ve been trying to preach that it’s going to take a few months for the vaccine to get us back to normal,” Balmes–John said, adding that people need to continue precautionary measures, including masks, social distancing, staying away from those outside your household and frequent hand washing.

McDermott put it this way: “Don’t share your air with anybody else in any indoor environment or outdoor environment. Assume the air in any indoor space is contaminated. This is the mindset you have to have if we’re going to lower the prevalence in our community.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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